Some of the top cities in the country for conferences are now welcoming visitors back to their most celebrated restaurants, entertainment spots, and shopping destinations. In-person events will be on the schedule but, in many cases, welcoming fewer attendees than in years past. These more intimate conferences are a fabulous way to reintroduce face-to-face meetings because there are so many dining, entertainment, arts, and cultural opportunities that can be taken advantage of with smaller groups than events with thousands of on-site attendees.
To get ahead of the planning curve, it’s important for meeting planners to strategize scheduling for this year and next. We chose a few cities that are normally the go-tos for large conferences that also have fabulous, lesser-known attractions that are perfect for all-size events.
As one of the most popular tourist and conference destinations in the United States, Las Vegas is a sensational city for planning entertainment and fine dining for event attendees. With so many things to do on and off The Strip, you’re sure to plan a memorable experience for conference-goers in this iconic American city.
When it comes to entertainment, Las Vegas definitely delivers. Cirque du Soleil has two shows: The first is the whimsical water show “O” at the Bellagio, and the second is “Love,” a Beatles-inspired performance at the Mirage theatre. There are also many smaller comedy shows and music acts, so definitely take advantage of entertainment within close range to the hotel hosting your event.
While there are plenty of amazing restaurants on The Strip, including Momofuku and The Bazaar, mix it up! Plan a meal at Robata En, an Asian fusion restaurant not far from the Vegas lights, or host a dinner at Primal, where the steaks are just as famous as the chef. Chinatown, one of Vegas’s best-kept secrets for authentic Chinese cuisine, is also another great option to surprise your guests with any of its tucked-away restaurants.
While the casinos, shows, and world-class restaurants are always a hit with conference-goers, consider exploring Vegas’s lesser-known attraction–nature. For longer conference stays, offer attendees a truly unique experience by planning a day trip to Red Rock Canyon. This national conservation area and prime hiking location is the perfect place for team events.
Planning a conference in Chicago can be tough because there’s just so much to do. Scheduling excursions for attendees to parks and museums is a must–not to mention a change to savor the Windy City’s hot dogs.
Any trip to Chicago deserves time set aside for exploring the arts and culture of the city. Visit the celebrated Art Institute of Chicago, which houses thousands of artworks spanning centuries around the world. If you have a more science-minded crowd, tour the halls of the Field Museum, which has an extensive collection of jewels, mummies, and dinosaurs. Another excellent excursion is the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest botanical conservatories in the nation.
When it comes to dining, there are plenty of amazing restaurants, such as Topolobampo and The Dearborn, but you can’t leave the Windy City without indulging in a frankfurter. Suggest attendees grab a hot dog from a downtown stand, such as Kim & Carlo’s or stop by Gene & Jude’s on their way to O’Hare as they leave town.
With perfect weather and beautiful beaches, planning a fun and engaging trip to San Diego won’t be hard. Explore the sea by taking a kayak tour through the La Jolla Sea Caves and catch a glimpse of leopard sharks, sea lions, and dolphins. For wildlife sightings on land, tour the San Diego Zoo and the surrounding Balboa Park, home to flourishing vegetation, museums, and restaurants.
Foodies looking to venture outside of the hotel for dining might deliberate between Sochi Sushi and Dija Mara, two unbelievable Asian restaurants. Sochi Sushi presents authentic Japanese Omakase dining amongst an artful and sensual environment, while Dija Mara combines Southeast Asian flavors with Western accents and Japanese cooking techniques to create a unique menu and sublime flavors.
Surprise your San Diego conference attendees by offering them a more local experience, and they will definitely appreciate it.
In Phoenix, there is no shortage of outdoor escapades, eclectic spots, and culture. If you’re looking to plan an event for an active crowd, this city and its surroundings are the perfect destination for team building.
A local outdoor exploit is the Desert Botanical Garden, a 140-acre living museum with over 50,000 plants. Schedule a team breakout here or take a break from the busy convention schedule. However, if you have the time, the most obvious and must-see natural attraction near Phoenix is the Grand Canyon. The cleverly organized Sedona and Grand Canyon Single Day Tour allows you to see two of Arizona’s most popular outdoor sights with minimal stress and lots of time left to fit other excursions around your conference schedule.
For shopping, explore the Melrose District, where you can find kitschy vintage items at stores such as Retro Ranch. For dining, plan a meal at Beckett’s Table, or for American classics with a Southern twist, dine at the Southern Rail.
This central Florida city may be best known for Disney World and other amusement parks, but there are other great attractions to check out beyond the Magic Castle.
Orlando is the perfect place to indulge the adventurer in your attendees. When planning a conference in Orlando, consider offering off-site excursions to the city’s many nature parks. Outdoor explorers will love Bok Tower Gardens, a 700-acre nature conservatory filled with citrus groves and beautiful walking trails. Animal lovers will enjoy a visit to the Central Florida Zoo, where you can feed a giraffe and walk through botanical gardens. Schedule a ‘break the ice’ event for the indoor daredevils in your group by adding a visit to Downtown Orlando’s Backyard Axe Throwing League, where all skill levels are welcome.
When it comes to planning meals, there are many amazing restaurants near and in the amusement parks. However, guests staying near any of the major parks should definitely plan a meal a La Luce.
While the national museums and landmarks are an obvious must-see, the food scene is arguably the other ‘must’ in America’s capital city because it is one of the best and most diverse in the country.
For the culinary adventurers in your group, check out one of DC’s many Ethiopian restaurants (such as Chercher) where guests can sit around a large sharing table. For those who prefer Mexican cuisine and cocktails to unwind after an in-person meeting, visit Oyamel, a tapas-focused restaurant in Penn Quarter of Chinatown.
If you want to stay closer to your hotel, you can still take advantage of places near your conference location. With the Capitol as a backdrop and firepits warming the patio, Art and Soul Restaurant offers delicious Southern food in an intimate al fresco setting. If you are entertaining a group of music lovers on a Thursday, make group reservations for the live music on the patio. Near Dupont Circle? Consider a morning break at Kramer’s Books and Afterwords Cafe, a combination full-service bar, restaurant, and bookstore.
Shopping is not to be underrated in DC either. Consider a group walk through CityCenterDC, a 10-acre stretch of luxe-shopping and quirky coffee shops. Or, if your group is closer to Georgetown, suggest an M street detour before or after dinner.